The main headlines of Tuesday’s Champions League will be Lionel Messi scoring his first for PSG. But fuck that, Messi scores every goddamn day. The real story is FC Sheriff, from a country that kind of doesn’t exist, in their first Champions League campaign ever, just beat Real Madrid in the Bernabeu 2-1 on this thunderbastard:
This is why giving players who remove their shirts in celebration of a goal a yellow card is criminal. If you’re Sebastien Thill and FC Sheriff and you score that to beat Madrid, everyone would have had a right to strip completely naked and cover themselves in melted fudge.
Sheriff are one of the weirdest stories in the Champions League and in soccer in general. They are the Moldovan champions, except they kind of don’t play in Moldova. Kind of. They are based in the Transnistria region, up against the Ukrainian border, which renounced the Moldovan government decades ago. They’re not recognized as their own country, though Moldova recognizes it as a “Transnistria autonomous territorial unit with special legal status.”
It gets better. Sheriff are owned by a company of the same name, which essentially owns the whole country. Sixty percent of the economy of the territory goes through Sheriff the company. Imagine if Amazon was somehow bigger (only just, really), owned the Dodgers, and was started by two KGB agents. Which Sheriff was. Their Wikipedia page has them owning gas stations, supermarkets, a TV channel, a publishing house, construction, Mercedes-Benz dealerships, an ad agency, a liquor company, and a mobile phone company. Oh, and probably the government too. But we’re used to that around here.
Whatever they may be, they certainly are minnows in this competition and had to navigate all three qualifying rounds just to get into the group stage. Now they’ve beaten Shakhtar Donetsk and Madrid, which means they’re top of the group. If they can beat Inter just once, and Inter have perennially Magoo in the Champions League, they could easily find themselves in the knockout rounds.